Determining differences between versions of text files or Web sites

Plain-text configuration files have been a feature of Windows since its inception. Today we see more XML-format files than the classic legacy .INI file for configuring applications, but the common denominator is that they're plain-text files that can be edited "by hand" with nothing more than Notepad or an equivalent text editor.

One issue that often arises when working with text files of any kind is how things have changed from one revision of the file to another. Microsoft Word has built-in provisions for tracking changes across versions of documents, but these only work well when used with Word's native .DOC format. Tracking changes within plain-text files themselves is nigh impossible, since they have no provision for recording changes.


Requires Free Membership to View

WinMerge 2.4, a free and open-source Windows application used to compare different versions of text files, compare the changes between them, and produce change reports or merged copies of the compared files. The program can also compare multiple files in multiple directories and use wildcards to filter the comparison searches, both of which are useful capabilities for checking different editions of a Web site or a source-code tree.

Individual files can be compared side by side in a pair of windows, with changes highlighted and annotated via color bands. If you have text added or missing in one file, WinMerge non-destructively rearranges line breaks so that similar lines are always matched up side by side. The program can also read and compare files in archives without having to unpack them first (a plug-in for the popular 7-ZIP archiving tool is included), is not restricted by any maximum file size, and will work with Unicode (UTF-8) files and filenames.

Although WinMerge also works with binary files, for the best results you'll want to use an external plug-in that is currently available only with the 2.5 development version of the program. The application can also generate patch files compatible with Diffutils, a file-comparing freeware program available from GNU Software, so that the exact changes made to a given file can be reproduced separately.

Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!

More information from SearchWinSystems.com

This was first published in March 2006

There are Comments. Add yours.

TIP: Want to include a code block in your comment? Use <pre> or <code> tags around the desired text. Ex: <code>insert code</code>

REGISTER or login:

Forgot Password?
By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy
Sort by: OldestNewest

Forgot Password?

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an email containing your password.

Your password has been sent to:

Disclaimer: Our Tips Exchange is a forum for you to share technical advice and expertise with your peers and to learn from other enterprise IT professionals. TechTarget provides the infrastructure to facilitate this sharing of information. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or validity of the material submitted. You agree that your use of the Ask The Expert services and your reliance on any questions, answers, information or other materials received through this Web site is at your own risk.